Rico Nasty synthesizes her aggressive and uplifting sides, to great effect.
Rico Nasty unlocked something powerful when she started yelling. The young, Baltimore-raised rapper already had rhyming skills galore and an enviable ear for beats, but it was her nü-metal-inspired raging that filled a musical void. Rico's two Sugar Trap tapes, released in 2016 and 2017, were accurately named for their cartoonish glow, trap realness, and emotive strengths— they put Rico on the national map, lest we forget. But Around the end of 2017 and beginning of 2018, the more aggro Rico we know today began taking shape. First there was "Party Goin Dumb," a single with artwork that showed Rico rocking a liberty spike mohawk, on which Rico stretched her iconic rasp into its upper limits for the first time. But "Smack A Bitch" was the real wake up call.
In Kenny Beats, Rico found an on-the-rise producer with the know-how to bring actual ugly abrasion to her sound— just listen to that growling, foreboding riff that kicks off "Smack A Bitch." It was the start of a beautiful partnership that was strengthened on several tracks from Nasty, Rico's breakout 2018 album, and continues in full force on Anger Management, a release that lists both Rico and Kenny as lead artist.
Nasty saw Rico flitting back and forth between her "sugar trap" sound and her newfound aggro rap, perfecting both but paying little thought to putting them in conversation or synthesizing them across the album. Anger Management, on the other hand, uses her duality for a calculated purpose. Kenny laid out the trajectory of the 19-minute project on Twitter:
This isn't rage for rage's sake or buoyant, happy trap music for the sake of escapism. As its artwork suggests, Anger Management is inspired by primal scream therapy, a school of psychology that suggests that negative energy, trauma, and tension can be released via unbridled yelling (John Lennon popularized it in the early '70s). Somewhere between thinking it out and finishing calm, Rico beautifully sums up the idea behind the philosophy on penultimate track "Sell Out": "The expression of anger is a form of rejuvenation/I'm screaming inside of my head in hopes that I'm easing the pain."
Anger Management's first few tracks are indeed rejuvenating. From "Cold" to the EarthGang-featuring "Big Titties," Rico starts the party and doesn't let up on the gas pedal until she's given us four rock-solid ragers. Through staticky beats, aggressive ad-libs, dextrous flows, and one bold flip of an instantly-recognizable classic, the first half of this album achieves unorthodox thrills the likes of which most artists can only dream of. Kenny shows his virtuosic eclecticism throughout— let's not forget that he was also behind some of Nasty's prettiest beats— but nowhere more so than in his ability to deliver pitch-perfect imitations of classic beats. He already did it with Noreaga's "Superthug" on Nasty's "Countin' Up," but his "Dirt Off Your Shoulder" flip on "Hatin" is bolder and more gratifying. He's granted key assists from Baauer (where has he been, by the way?) on two of these four tracks, the latter of which, "Big Titties," is an ode to the female orgasm that should ring off at any party worth its salt this summer.
The "comedown" side of the album is a little more of a mixed bag, but it shows Rico's versatility and offers some respite from side one's heaviness. The Harry Fraud co-produced "Relative" has Rico in pure flex mode, getting "higher than a bitch that's addicted to skydiving" and showing that she doesn't need super busy, ear-assaulting production to distract from her considerable abilities on the mic. The next track, the Splurge-assisted "Mood," is easily the weakest of the bunch. Kenny cooks up a tricky, winding beat that never reaches full gratification with Rico and (especially) Splurge's flows. It's the kind of beat that demands a pure shapeshifter like Valee or Hoodrich Pablo Juan, and though Splurge kind of sounds like the latter, he's not yet equipped for this obstacle course.
The final two songs, "Sell Out" and "Again" are cut from the same cloth, and provide a triumphant, uplifting conclusion. "Sell Out" is a self-love anthem that can stand shoulder-to-shoulder with anything on Lizzo's new album, and is a self-referential testament to Rico finding her own sound and riding it all the way to a major label deal and sold out shows galore. And as for "Again"? It's one of the best songs of the year, let alone on the album, and I wish it was three times as long. It's very Young Thug-esque, not just because Rico makes great use of his "Udigg?" ad-lib, but because of her elastic vocals and the wavy, trippy beat Kenny cooks up (it's also worth noting that Anger Management was mixed by Thugger confidant Alex Tumay). "Again," like Thugger's "Just Might Be" or "Take Care," is the grin-inducing, addictive album closer that makes you instantly press play on the whole project again.
Anger Management might only be 19 minutes long, but it wastes absolutely no time, and covers an impressive amount of ground while retaining some structure. Big ups to everyone involved.